East Texas Baptist University held three Spring Commencement ceremonies to honor the 2021 spring graduates on Saturday, May 8, at 9:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the ceremonies as 190 students received undergraduate degrees and 21 earned graduate degrees, for a total of 211 graduates.

The Spring 2021 graduating class marks the largest in university history. Each of the three ceremonies began with a reading of the university theme verse, Proverbs 3:5-6, which ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders spoke on during his keynote address.

“The last part of this verse says ‘He will make your paths straight,’” Sanders said. “When Jesus calls us to follow Him, His promise that He will make your path straight does not mean it is going to be easy. Jesus didn’t call us to sit on the couch. He said take up your cross and follow me. There is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘Even a child is known by his actions.’ Graduates, here is what I want to ask you. What will you be known by?”

ETBU Associate Dean of the School of Natural and Social Sciences Roy Darville gave the commencement address to Schools of Humanities, Natural and Social Sciences, and Professional Studies. ETBU Associate Provost Emily Prevost challenged the graduates from the Schools of Nursing and Education to go from the hill as Christian servant leaders in their fields.

“Use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms,” Prevost said. “So educators, teach. And nurses, heal. Jesus, in His time on this earth, spent more time healing and teaching than just about anything else. And so you go into this world with the opportunity to continue the work of God incarnate. Sharing God’s grace, in whatever form that has been gifted to you.”

Each semester, ETBU President Blackburn presents an award to a graduate who represents a Christian leader, scholar, and servant within the campus and local community.

Brock Garrison, graduating with a Bachelor of Music in Worship Studies, received the President’s Award for the Spring 2021 graduating class. Garrison has consistently demonstrated ETBU’s core commitments during his time on the Hill. ETBU’s 2021 President’s Award winner has maintained a GPA of 3.90 while completing over 150 credit hours.

Despite multiple offers to enter full-time music ministry work after graduation, he has decided to pursue graduate studies and was accepted into the Commercial Music Graduate Program at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the most competitive programs in the country.

In addition to academic excellence, Garrison has been actively involved at Immanuel Baptist Church, where he serves as a leader on the worship team and with the youth ministry. He has participated in the marching band, symphonic band, concert choir, hilltop singers, and lampsato worship band. In addition, he has played key roles in multiple musical theatre productions.

A faculty member said of Garrison, “Brock is often seen mentoring younger musicians or youth in his church. Through his academic and musical excellence, he motivates others to be better versions of themselves.”

Dr. John Harris, Dean of the School of Christian Studies and Chair of the Department of Christian Ministry, was recognized as a Professor with Distinction for his excellence in service, scholarship, teaching, and integration of faith and learning.

Additionally, Harris serves as Professor of the Endowed Chair for Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry. He began teaching at East Texas Baptist in 1995, and since then has been known for his work ethic, admirable courage, and generous spirit. He has served the university by giving his time to students as an advisor, a mentor, and role model, and he believes his God-called purpose is to help students move from potential to purpose. His desire is that whatever students learn carries beyond the classroom and goes into how they function in their various relationships in life.

“Dr. Harris constantly encouraged me to strive for excellence, and because of his frankness with me and faith in me, I have completed my Master’s degree in one year, and entered a Ph.D. program,” a former student of Harris said. “Even more impressive than his impact on my academic life is Dr. Harris’ impact on my personal life. It is because of Dr. Harris that I make consistent retirement contributions. It is because of Dr. Harris that I was able to negotiate my salary for my first pastoral position. These private conversations, which were clearly beyond normal academic requirements, gave me the necessary tools to step into adulthood.”

The 2020-2021 Academic Year was unique. Navigating campus life during a pandemic presented new challenges. The ETBU Family also mourned the passing of ETBU graduating senior Devin Stanfield in March. His mother, Felicia Stanfield, and sister, Jalisha Townsley, attended the ceremony and received a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology-Wellness Management on his behalf.

Dr. Blackburn shared reflections by Devin’s roommate and friend, ETBU graduate student Hunter Punjak, who said, “Devin was more than just a student here at ETBU. He never met a stranger. He never met anyone he couldn’t beat on the basketball court. He treated everyone he met as if they were his own flesh and blood. Even to this day, I can see that infectious smile.”

Despite the difficulties experienced throughout the year, the Tiger Family celebrated the highest recorded enrollment in university history and came together in person to honor the accomplishments of the largest Tiger graduating class of 2021.

“Graduates, despite the pandemic, you have persevered in your pursuits to earn the right to be called a graduate of East Texas Baptist University,” Dr. Blackburn said. “While other college students across the country remained in virtual learning environments, even with many college student-athletes sidelined, you took the field and the court. With other institutions restricting performing arts, you sang with joy; you sounded your instruments; and you took the stage this year. As other students were limited with their opportunity to engage in on-campus, in-person learning experiences, ETBU Tigers enjoyed the blessings of fellowship together on the Hill. United with one Spirit, with our purposes defined by God, we did not just survive; we thrived. Your journey and the pursuit, discovery, and application of God’s truths do not end here. Commencement at East Texas Baptist is a celebration, a marker as you commence in carrying forth in lifelong learning and lifelong service for the glory of God.”

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